Coronavirus accelerates the move from high-street to online shopping. Photo: Unsplash

Rose Marroncelli, a PhD researcher in fast fashion, at Nottingham Trent University, talks to Shannon Mountford about how Coronavirus will affect the UK’s high streets.

As COVID-19 bring the fashion world to an abrupt halt, retailers are encountering an unprecedented period which could be disastrous for business. As confinement measures keep shoppers at home and high street stores remain shut, the question of whether brands will survive the virus hangs in the air.

Rose Marroncelli, PhD researcher and lecturer in textiles at Nottingham Trent University, is currently considering the high street’s durability and has noted the accelerated move to online shopping inevitably caused by the lockdown measures, suggesting that some retailers will not survive post-pandemic.

Many high street brands will become casualties

“At the moment you can’t put a number on how many retailers won’t make it through, but there is evidence that many high street brands will become casualties. We have already seen the likes of Warehouse go into administration straightaway,” she says.

Rose is an expert in the effects of fast fashion on high street retailers and specialises in the longevity of online brands. She notes that this unavoidable move to online shopping has created a colossal crisis, with a predicted 50% reduction in shops on a typical high street to be expected.

Rose admits that online retailers depend on consumer attitudes, but it is unclear whether people will revert back to old buying habits once things go back to normal.

“A lot of people are taking this spare time to declutter their wardrobes and are only replenishing items that they feel they are lacking. This is obviously reflected by the drop in online sales. When the lockdown regulations first came into force in March, figures dropped by 34% because people stopped buying clothes because they couldn’t go anywhere.”

This shows how the customer is at the crux of the fashion industry, and the potential insolvency of some retailers will strongly depend on shoppers’ attitudes in the future.

Despite this fall in sales, Rose doesn’t think fast fashion brands such as Missguided and will suffer compared to high street brands. She also thinks that the production of fast fashion garments won’t change in retrospect either.

 “I do think that brands like will reduce the collections they produce but not substantially,” she says. “Their business model is all about mass production and cheap garments, so it is unrealistic to think they will only do two collections a year because it doesn’t produce as high a revenue. Saying that, I do expect them to stop releasing new clothing every week, as they have struggled with excess stock.”

As a result of falling sales online, a lot of fast fashion brands have plastered discounts across their websites in an attempt to offload mass stock that they are otherwise struggling to sell. 

“Fallen sales doesn’t mean no sales,”Rose says. “This just shows how lucrative the fast fashion industry is and how they are particularly good at targeting the right market quickly.”

She also suggests that the future of high street brands will depend on their digital optimisation. “Zara and Topshop have always struggled with their online branding. I think this is primarily due to budget. However, more than ever, the future of the brands depends on their online presence and it just isn’t at the same level as other online retailers.”

Some retailers won’t open to save the expense if the footfall is low

Rose suggests that brands who haven’t adapted as quickly online will be the ones that struggle to bounce back. This, mixed with the potential store regulations, may prevent some retailers from opening altogether.

She adds: “There will be a huge focus on hygiene when stores reopen, for example, stores may only allow limited people inside at once, and trying on clothes may be stopped in the short-term. I think customers will be vigilant too, meaning some retailers won’t open to save the expense if the footfall is low.”

The future of high street brands is currently hanging in the balance. There is no confirmation that the UK high street will be opening up any time soon, but evidence from other countries including Germany, where stores have started to reopen, indicates that retail will be depressed for some time.